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7 things we discovered about the artist Luke Jerram
3 Nov 2023
Luke Jerram’s art is wondrous, inclusive and hard-hitting. Here are seven things Grant Gibson uncovered on meeting ‘probably the most famous artist you’ve never heard of’
Luke Jerram. Image: courtesy of the artist. Photo: Christopher Jones
Luke Jerram’s career presents a dichotomy
On one hand his work is extraordinarily popular. In 2022 alone he had 104 exhibitions in 25 different countries, visited by more than two million people.
These are statistics that would appear to belong to a heritage rock star on a wildly lucrative world tour, rather than a contemporary artist.
Yet on the other, until recently at least, he has flown under the media radar. He was once described as ‘probably the most famous artist you’ve never heard of’ in a Bloomberg documentary (a quote he’s more than happy to repeat on his website).
First Breath. Image courtesy of the artist
His work is hard to pin down
There was Play Me, I’m Yours, which saw the installation of more than 2,000 pianos in over 70 cities across the globe, encouraging people to bash out a tune (an idea that has since been copied and even turned into a TV show).
For another project he invited people to take a giant water slide down Bristol’s Park Street. Then there is his curiously beautiful Glass Microbiology series – including sculptures of the HIV and Covid-19 viruses – rendered delicately in glass.
Meanwhile, First Breath was a light sculpture in Manchester at the start of 2023, commissioned by the city’s newest venue, Factory International. It used light to celebrate the births of children in Greater Manchester in January of this year. Beams were powered up into the sky, each one pulsating to represent the first breaths and number of babies born that day.
Arguably though, the projects that have lifted Jerram out of (relative) obscurity are Gaia and Museum of the Moon. These works reduce the earth and moon down to seven metres in diameter respectively and are created from 120dpi detailed NASA imagery of their surfaces.
Currently, there are five versions of the two projects touring the nation and the world simultaneously.
Gaia. Image: © Roy Riley
This eclecticism means Jerram never gets bored…
…but at the start of his career it caused some problems. As he freely admits: ‘The works were so different from one another, it became hard to become established.’
Yet there are some threads running through these seemingly disparate projects.
The most obvious one is scale.
Jerram is fascinated with making minuscule things larger, while also reducing enormous objects to a size the human eye can comprehend. ‘I am interested in exploring the edges of our senses,’ he says. ‘I’m interested in those invisible worlds and making them more visible.’
Play Me, I’m Yours in New York. Image: courtesy of the artist
Audience participation is a key element of Jerram’s practice
He puts this down to his years as a student in Cardiff, where he studied performance art, as well as sculpture.
He always felt the performers were having more fun than their audience and was determined to switch the nature of that relationship. ‘It becomes about the public. They become the performers,’ he explains. ‘That’s when projects become really exciting, leaving space for other people to be creative.’
He puts his appetite for graft down to his parents
His father was a milkman, his mother a teaching assistant. ‘They were just really supportive of what I wanted to do, which is what any parent should be like,’ he says. ‘They both worked hard. My dad was in the rain for 12 hours every night. I used that and have applied it to my work.’
Jerram with his glass coronavirus. Image: courtesy of the artist
Jerram puts his fascination with science and perception down to his colour blindness
‘It has given me an interest in the process of visual perception,’ he explains. ‘Annoyingly it prevents lots of work from happening. I can’t really do proper painting because I can’t really understand colours.’
Mars: War & Peace, seen at Kensington and Chelsea Festival. Image: Dave Parry/Press Association
He loves collaboration
Over the years he has worked with NASA scientists, hot-air balloon makers, composers, architects, artisans and even medieval musicologists.
‘I love it,’ he says. ‘I get to make things I couldn’t physically do myself. Then I have to learn the language of that particular fabrication process, so I know what can be done. You have to be able to communicate in the new language of whoever you’re working with.’
He believes it’s also his role to nudge his collaborators into new directions and to question what is possible through a process. ‘My job is to push the envelope a bit.’
See Grant Gibson’s whole interview with Luke Jerram in the latest issue of The Arts Society Magazine, out now and available exclusively to members and supporters of The Arts Society (to join, see theartssociety.org/member-benefits).
There are several of Luke Jerram’s Gaias and Museum of the Moons currently touring. For more information on these and all of Jerram’s works and latest projects, see lukejerram.com
About the Author
is a design, craft and architecture writer and runs the award-winning podcast Material Matters
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